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The Land of Smiles: a mini Thailand unit study

Almost exactly a year ago, after watching the last of the reddish hues of the sun disappear behind the African plains, we sat together as a family and had a mini review of our year to date. My husband asked the children what they loved about home schooling, what they didn’t like so much and what they’d like to do more of if they could. Without hesitation, their unanimous answer was, “more travelling, more country studies, more lapbooks!” We’d completed a project on South Africa prior to our trip and it was clearly a highlight of their year. They love exploring the world and all the beauty it has to offer, but alongside that it seems they also love the preparation; the chance to find out about the people, their cultures and religions, the animals and plants, the geography and history of the different countries of the world.

And they like creating lapbooks. If you’re not familiar with lapbooks, they’re simply a series of A4 folders stuck together to form a fold away repository for all the work you’ve covered on a particular topic. They’re super easy to make and you can stick in pictures and maps you’ve drawn or printed out, along with sections of written work. You can create mini flap books, pockets to hold information cards, accordion style foldables that pull out etc. Homeschoolshare has a series of blank templates for you to use, allowing you to type in the titles for your mini books, and print out ready for your child to fill in and stick onto their lapbook. Here’s an example of the lapbook Bean8 created about Australia, after discovering her love for this way of learning.


And here are some example of the types of mini books they can create:


I’m not sure exactly what it is that makes these lapbooks so appealing, but whenever I suggest making one for a topic we’re working on, they literally jump off the sofa in excitement! They also love to pull them out to show family members and friends or just to read themselves, which means they actually review the content on a fairly regular basis.

Clearly then, when we booked a holiday to Thailand, I knew a country study and accompanying lapbook would be on the cards. We’ve had so much fun with this project over the last couple of weeks. Here’s what we covered.


First we located Thailand on the globe, discussed the surrounding countries and seas  and completed the mapping activity included in the Confessions of a Homeschooler Expedition Earth curriculum.  Since we’ll be visiting Singapore for a week on our way to Thailand, they coloured in flags for both of these countries, and we talked about the meanings of the colours and the symbols represented. These were all added to the lapbook, along with a pocket full of fun facts they’d written about Thailand.


Next on our agenda was this lovely book about Thailand, written from the perspective of two Thai children, one from Bangkok and the other from Chang Mai, who show us around their country. They introduce us to the different parts of Thailand, great places to visit, their crafts, language, customs & beliefs, festivals, games, folk tales, music, dancing, food, clothing and animals. It’s a very comprehensive book and gave us an excellent insight into what it means to be Thai. As we explored the book, we looked up relevant YouTube clips to bring it to life for them. For example, we watched some dragonboat racing, traditional Khon dancing, videos showing the different Thai musical instruments and higlights from festivals like Songkran – the Thai New Year celebrations, where they pour water on to everything and everyone to symbolize the washing away of all their troubles.

Bean8 used the information included in the book to write an A4 side about how Thailand is shaped like an elephant’s head, describing the different parts of the country in more detail, along with a summary of its wildlife. This was a self initiated activity, completed purely for the joy of writing and a chance to stick something else into her lapbook!


Songs, games, craft activities and recipes are also included in the book for you to try at home. We liked the look of the Sticky Rice with Mangos recipe, so had a stab at making it together.


The result was delicious if somewhat sweet, which clearly made it a great hit with the kids!


Next we studied Thai floating markets using the links from the Expedition Earth curriculum, and followed the included activity to make floating Thai boats. Both children have very vivid imaginations and so inevitably this activity led to a long game involving all their Sylvanians and Schleich animals! I often find that after learning about a topic, be it literature, history, science or geography based, they explore what they’ve learned through play, in the form of complex games that can go on for days. This is an extremely important part of the learning process, consolidating their learning and bringing it to life in their minds, which I strongly suspect leads to a more solid memory in their brains.


This was followed by reading an article about Thai customs, which again they wrote up for their lapbooks. Their favourite was the “days of colour” custom, a Koh Samui tradition in which locals wear set colours for each day of the week, each colour representing a different monarch or god who protects that specific day. It’s bright yellow on Monday to honour the day the king was born, pink on Tuesday, green on Wednesday changing to grey at night, orange on Thursday, light blue on Friday for the queen’s day of birth, purple on Saturday and red on Sunday! They were keen to see if they had all these colours represented in the clothes we packed so they could join in the tradition!

Next up, we read the Thai section of the Children Just Like Me book, about Suchart, a Thai boy studying to become a Buddhist monk. It was interesting for them to see how different his life was from their own. Bean7 was particularly taken aback by the fact that none of the monks eat after midday, which is something he doesn’t believe he’d be able to do!


This led onto a discussion about Buddhism, so I dug out all our relevant books and we spent some time learning about the Buddhist beliefs and ways of life. I made a little Buddhist pocket for the lapbook, and they wrote out some interesting facts about what they’d learned to add to this pocket. Later, Bean8 decided to write a more comprehensive description of the Buddhist faith for her lapbook.

I’m a big believer in the power of documentaries to promote learning and as a family we’re slightly addicted to them. I found a couple of lovely ones for this project: Thailand Earth’s Tropical Paradise and Dara & Ed’s Road to Mandalay, Episode 2: Thailand. They particularly enjoyed Dara O’Briain and Ed Byrne’s brand of comedy and were in stitches at various points throughout this documentary!

Bean7 is desperate to snorkel in Thailand, ever since he tried it in Sardinia and claimed it to be the best day of his life! So we’ll be trying out some snorkelling sites on the nearby reefs off Koh Lanta. To prepare, we read some excellent books about coral reefs, including a section from Blue Planet 2 (they’d already watched this fascinating documentary), along with the coral reef section of Rosie’s Australia lapbook. Bean8 also has this coral reef colouring book to complete on the plane.


In addition, they used the Artventure lessons about coral, butterfly fish and turtles to paint some colourful additions for the lapbook.

The last part of this project was actually completed by my mum. She worked through the Kids’ Travel Guide Thailand with them, a wonderful activity book which I’d highly recommend. Some of the topics they’d already covered, and it therefore served as a review for them (they’re always very proud to demonstrate what they’ve learned to family members and I overheard a lot of jostling to be the one to explain various facts!), but they also touched upon the following in more depth: the history, the royal family, the symbol of Thailand, Siamese twins (the first were born in Thailand in 1811) and they learned and practised some basic Thai language. There are lots of quizzes and puzzles in this book, which appealed to my two. If you didn’t have time to complete a study of Thailand prior to your trip, this would make a perfect activity book for the plane.

Although we’ve technically finished our unit study, bar our exciting trip to Thailand, we’re leaving the project open, as Bean8 is very keen to keep adding to her lapbook over time. There’s so much more she wants to write about apparently and I’m sure there’ll be many more additions to her lapbook after visiting this beautiful country.


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